An interview with Maria Maggenti as conducted by her lead character
in Puccini for Beginners, Allegra Castiglione.
Allegra is a 28-year-old writer who lives in New York City. I created
her about ten years ago but it took seven years to bring her to the
screen. Allegra decided to conduct this interview because, as a character,
she has been bugging me with these questions since we got into the editing
Allegra: Maria, why did you decide to put my most humiliating
moment of the story right at the beginning of the film? Not only am
I wearing a catering outfit, embarrassing in and of itself, but I am
confronted by my two lovers, neither of whom knows about the other.
And this in front of a room full of people! I think there’s a
certain hostility in this gesture.
Maria: Okay, blame it on Susan Graef, my beloved editor.
I didn’t write it that way and I didn’t shoot it that way.
I thought we’d be able to get to know you and your dilemma long
before you are shown up by your girlfriend and your boyfriend and your
ex-girlfriend and her fiancé. But during one of my four rough
cut screenings, people, quite frankly, really didn’t like you
very much. Most of them told me that you were too attractive, too successful
and whoopee ding, you had a boyfriend and a girlfriend. You alienated
them with your riches. So, I had to take you down a notch to make you
more sympathetic. Not only that, there weren’t very many laughs
in those first two cuts and since this is a comedy and you’re
supposed to be in a comic situation, we decided to open the film with
your most humiliating moment. Oh, and the catering outfit looks cute
Allegra: It’s not really my fault that I live in a pretty
nice crib in this film. And I live in a gorgeous neighborhood in Manhattan,
the West Village, which you show over and over again. Why did you try
to alienate the audience by giving me such a nice place anyway?
Maria: Actually, you live in my old apartment in the
West Village. And you live there because we could shoot there for free.
In addition, my incredibly wonderful upstairs neighbors were willing
to turn their apartment into holding for hair and make-up. All we had
to do was run up and down the stairs. You, by the way, are an awful
slob, something I am not. And we shot in the West Village because it’s
Allegra: You made me a writer, which I think most audiences
will agree is one of the least cinematic of characters. Is that why
you never show me writing anything?
Maria: You have writer’s block. And yes, showing
a person “writing” is super boring. But like most writers,
and I can say this with some authority, you spend much of your time
entangled in real life dramas that you can only make sense of later
on paper. You procrastinate, you make excuses, you play with your vibrator,
you take lovers and you sleep too much, all of which I think is an accurate
portrayal of the writer’s life.
Allegra: I am involved with a man and a woman in this
film and yet you never once use the term bisexual. In fact, you make
me have a kind of blithe, insouciant attitude towards sexuality. Why
Maria: I’m not really interested in sexuality
per se except to rid the world of homophobic hatred. But in this story,
I was more interested in gender and the structures of heterosexuality.
What makes a woman a woman and what makes a man a man, and how do they
enact these ideas in relationship to each other? I allow you to go on
a rant about marriage and how “straight” it is and then
I make your boyfriend Philip (Justin Kirk) rebut you by sarcastically
noting that lesbians must never have problems to which you arrogantly
agree. Then, of course, I cut to you and your ex Samantha (Julianne
Nicholson) having a screaming match. I have you and your girlfriend
Grace (Gretchen Mol) have sex and then I have her ask you, a bit desperately
really, if you’re going to call her. This was my little way of
commenting on an irritating cliché, that women can’t fuck
without falling in love. But you’re a woman and you don’t
do that at all.
Allegra: You know, you’re pretty serious for
someone who claims to have written and directed a comedy. Is that why
you put me in analysis? I’m constantly referencing Freud, which
is a whole discussion in and of itself.
Maria: The fact is that you’re a mess and messy
people are great for storytelling.